Gov Career

By Phil Piemonte

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Union members—is that your boss or your partner?

A poll from the Gallup organization indicates that unionized workers—government and private-sector alike—appear to have a greater tendency to view supervisors as bosses rather than as work partners.

While anti-union types immediately may cry “AHA!”—hold on—it’s not as clear-cut as all that.

As we (well, maybe not all of us) learned in survey design and analysis class, we cannot “infer cause” from these particular results.

The reason, as the survey’s authors state, is as follows: “It is not known whether certain types of workers who view supervisors in these ways are more likely to seek unionized jobs, or whether a unionized work setting changes the ways in which workers and supervisors relate.”

And we can think of some other factors that muddy things up even more. For example …

In some environments—maybe where a supervisor is wearing a tie and holding a clipboard, and a union member is wearing coveralls and holding a wrench—the latter might be a tad more likely to think of the former as a “boss” than as a “partner.”

Then again, what if everyone is wearing a tie and sitting at a desk? Does the perception of “partner” increase?

In other words, it’s all a bit complicated.

But that won’t stop us—in our very unscientific way—from asking you to tell us what you think about it.

Does belonging to a union foster a stronger perception of a supervisor as a boss? Or is it a function of other factors?

Let us know.

Posted by Phil Piemonte on Mar 18, 2011 at 4:02 PM


Reader comments

Tue, Mar 22, 2011 Tim Fort Lauderdale, FL

I agree with Commonsenseguy! I work for the Postal Service and at BEST, relationship with craft is adversarial (I'm being kind). Union tries to cooperate with management to a fault. There is a so-called "partnership where managemen has enjoined our union to help bust carriers for safety infractions. Not nice! Worse that our union welcomes it! Management mentality is about domination, micromanagement and control without consideration to results or customer service. Example: I report to work and immediately go on waiting time for 10 minutes before I even begin my shift. This is supposed to be my "break" (which anywhere else, would begin after employee has performed some work that he/she deserves a break from). As absurd as this is, it is TRUE!

Tue, Mar 22, 2011

I've been a union member ever since I started working here and it never was a problem until we got a new civilian boss about 7 years ago. He mistreated the other 2 civilians in our shop so bad that both of them retired early (once they reached retirement age). He did the same to me, but there is no way I can retire yet. Then about 6 months ago I became executive vice president of our union and now he treats me alot better, although I know that he is just waiting for the day that I'm no longer a union officer. As far as him being the boss I have no problem with that and do everything he tells me to do. But as to being a partner or a friend I don't see that happening. One other thing, he replaced the men that retired with 2 of his personal friends.

Mon, Mar 21, 2011

Yes, we can work together to accomplish our corporate goals but, they can seek my removal, discipline me, add to my duties and give me direct orders. I cannot do any of these to a supervisor only file a grievance if they have violated our contract. Thankfully our contract gives us that option and due process in cases of discipline.

Mon, Mar 21, 2011 Jack

[The reason, as the survey’s authors state, is as follows: “It is not known whether certain types of workers who view supervisors in these ways are more likely to seek unionized jobs, or whether a unionized work setting changes the ways in which workers and supervisors relate.” ] Once again, we are seeing the result of media-driven politics reminiscent of the Ohio and Wisconsin shakedown, i.e. "let's analyze the union/management relationship to see where the weak links really are and see if they can be made stronger?" As long as there are people, there will be conflict. No one can unilaterally legislate behavior in the civilian work place and still have a productive outcome. There MUST be checks and balances to create some semblance of balance. While there are employees and employers out there who enjoy a certain harmony, they are the exception, not the rule. [Does belonging to a union foster a stronger perception of a supervisor as a boss? Or is it a function of other factors?] My boss is not my friend. He is not my "partner". He is a "facilitator" and a "director" of my performance. He needs to ensure that my performance makes him look good. It will never be my business how he conducts himself before bureaucrats above him. And, any politically correct fanatic who thinks their boss is a 'partner' needs to take a long, hard look at what happens when shit starts flowing downstream from above the 'partner'. I guarantee that your "partner" will make decisions solely on his or her own behalf without a thought for your interests. That is the reality of the federal work place. Unions have nothing to do with how I see my boss. They protect me from my boss when he/she gets too stupid and irrational. I don't particularly like unions but they are a necessity and I have benefited greatly from their presence.

Mon, Mar 21, 2011 john chicago

I've never worked in a union environment, but I can definitely say that supervisors have always been placed in the boss category . Never a partner . Ties...no ties...it doesn't matter . What is a 'work partner' ? It could be my dog.

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